At the time of the last General Election I commissioned the drawing on the right to illustrate what I feared had
become of the Conservative Party. We had become a narrow party – using
outdated methods of communication and language – bunkered and isolated
from much of the real world – and lacking the vocabulary and knowledge
to talk about anything other than the core vote issues of tax, Europe, crime and immigration.
The shields that crown this blog illustrated what I hoped the
Conservative Party might become – a broad coalition that retained its
commitment to the causes championed by the traditionalists but was also
a party of compassion, conservation and international responsibility.
I reflected on this when I read this morning’s piece in The Observer by Nicholas Watt – the newspaper’s new political editor. In conversation with David Cameron, the Tory leader told him that he has "never believed that progressive politics has to come from the left." He continued:
"I think the centre-right in politics, if it is optimistic, forward-looking, engaged in the world today, can be an incredible force for progressive politics."
David Cameron is surely right in this regard. All over the world it is the right which is leading the way in fighting the causes once so dear to the left. A few examples:
- George W Bush has led the world in tackling human trafficking;
- It took the conservative zero tolerance policies of Rudy Giuliani to rescue New Yorkers from the crime waves spawned by defeated liberal thinking;
- Nicolas Sarkozy’s appointment of Bernard Kouchner as foreign minister signals that France’s new centre-right President is not afraid of liberal interventionism. Kouchner, founder of Médecins Sans Frontières, was a man of the left but has been kicked out of the Socialist Party for accepting M Sarkozy’s inspired offer. He supports intervention in Darfur and sympathised with the Bush-Blair intervention in Iraq. I find the appointment genuinely very exciting.
- Today it is the conservative belief in school choice that offers poor, inner city families the hope of a better education for their children… It is the conservative faith in human dignity that wants to free the poor from the feed-and-forget philosophy of the welfare state bureaucracy… It is the left that is allying itself with Islamic facists because of its defining anti-Americanism.
When I commissioned the drawing above I was not against the Tories sticking with familar policies on tax, crime, immigration and Europe but I hoped for much more. I have been critical of David Cameron for neglecting those core beliefs in his quest for a greener, gentler conservatism. I do not apologise for that but this site should be doing more to encourage some of the changes that he is making in this ‘progressive’ direction. The changes certainly need to go much further. It is not enough to make a welcome visit to Darfur and then raise the issue once or twice at PMQs. Where is the passion to really do something for this troubled part of Africa? Will David Cameron prioritise tax relief for the low paid (within his sharing the proceeds of growth formulation) or will they largely go to business? What will he do with Iain Duncan Smith’s report on social justice? Will the party’s Human Rights Commission and its work on Burma, for example, become a leading influence on Tory foreign policy? Why are the LibDems taking the lead in questioning British Aerospace’s unsavoury dealings with Saudi Arabia? If flying is so bad for the environment why doesn’t he holiday in Cornwall rather than Crete?
The Conservative leader is right to say that we can be the new progressives. Those of us who believe in that change need to do more to encourage him in such a direction.
PS Fraser Nelson is encouraged, too!